Holt’s happy knack is the stuff of legends
There’s a certain song about Grant Holt that’s sung at Carrow Road.
No, not that one – this is a family newspaper – it’s the one that begins, “He scored three goals…” and ends, “…and Wesley scored the other one.”
It’s timely to mention that following the huge contribution the pair made following their introduction against QPR since today marks the first anniversary of said match against Ipswich. Was It 4-1? After all, it’s hard to remember when you have a sequence of convincing wins against the same side.
Saturday’s victory against QPR is never quite going to enter NCFC folklore in the same way as that derby triumph, but in the long term it could matter an awful lot more.
Why did the Canaries get relegated in 2005? Well, one of the reasons, I would venture to suggest, is that we won just one of the four fixtures against the sides who came up to the Premier League with us.
It doesn’t matter about how you do it – it you look back seven years what can you remember about the home games against Crystal Palace and West Brom? Darren Huckerby scoring fairly early on against the former and Damien Francis getting a late winner against the latter. And that’s about it, apart from someone trying to throw a pie at Kieran Richardson. In other words, pretty forgettable occasions.
In future times you’ll struggle to remember much about this game, or the Swansea one either. No matter. The key thing is that we won both.
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Sneak an away victory in either of the returns and then straightaway you have picked up around a quarter of the points you need to survive – two things we couldn’t manage seven seasons ago.
Had we drawn on Saturday it would have been in a similar manner to the draw against Crystal Palace in 2004 – and what a wasted opportunity that was. QPR, like Palace before them, still looked very much a Championship side in feel and image.
There were no big names to be daunted by and their error count was on a par with ours against Arsenal.
Blackburn came here with a side of big men and experienced top-flight heads and all of a sudden you realised you were really up against it. That will certainly be the case against Newcastle next month, and quite possibly Fulham as well.
On current form anything more than a point from those two games is a bonus, which is what made Saturday’s victory so important. It was a winnable match and that’s what we did. Doesn’t matter how, as long as we got the points.
Had we lost – which for a while after QPR equalised you sensed was quite a possible outcome – that would have been five winless games and three straight defeats. You’d be wondering just when the next win would come from.
Now, however, you look at it being a case of four down, six to go in terms of the wins we need to stay up.
Buoyed by Saturday’s success you can straightaway look at Wolves (A), Sunderland (A), Bolton (H), Wigan (H) and Wolves (H) being contenders for further wins between now and the end of March.
Beat a few of them and it might just be time for the Ipswich Evening Star to take down the NCFC relegation countdown clock on its website (currently 176 days, if you’re bothered) and launch a ‘Let’s back the Blues to stay up’ campaign instead.
Because it’s wins like Saturday’s that will stop us having to play them down the road for a while.
Although that still won’t stop a few songs about what happens when we have over the course of the past 12 months.
• LAMBERT MANAGES TO KEEP EVERYONE GUESSING
As for Saturday’s game itself; well, it was often a poor performance, the midfield service wasn’t always great and we conceded one our most sloppy goals of the season – and that’s saying something this year – but we got away with it.
It was an interesting team selection, to put it mildly, and not at all one I was expecting for something of a must-win occasion against a similar level of opposition.
But perhaps that was the point. When that teamsheet made its way to the QPR dressing room it must have led to a few furrowed brows and exclamations of: “What do we do now?”
It must have thrown them out for much of the first half, although I was surprised that they didn’t make much of a change themselves after the break, no doubt relying instead of the encouraging, soothing interval words of Neil Warnock.
It was pretty much business as usual for Lambert – his original idea ultimately fails to come up with the goods, but he is able to make the right change at the right time to salvage things.
It’s almost as if the manager knows that his team are going to suffer from some sort of defensive breakdown and keeps his Plan B in readiness on the bench.
You’d rather that than the other way around, I suppose. Grant Holt starts, you then concede an avoidable equaliser and then who’s guaranteed to come off the bench and score? No-one like the City No 9, that’s for sure.
Some things you could predict this season. The Canaries would give it a go in every game – there would be no repeat of seven years ago and half our midfield ‘going missing’ in important away games. And we’d pick up a few wins earlier in the season – this year our fourth win came in the 13th fixture, whereas in 2005 it came in the 32nd – against Manchester United.
You might remember it, it was a fairly noteworthy occasion, after all. But because that was an early evening kick-off we went into the game seven points adrift of safety – effectively eight due to a really poor goal difference – with just 21 to play for.
In other words, at a time when we were as good as down.
But the renaissance of Holt was not one of them.
At the start of October I did start to wonder whether, if the likes of Leicester made a move for him in January, rather than the supposed summer bid, it might this time be accepted.
He was starting to fall down the pecking order at a club which was finding its Premier League feet, but at least he had managed a top-flight goal, and his spectacular effort at Chelsea would be something to tell the grandkids about one day.
I should have known better. He’s now come off the bench to score three goals which have secured four vital points for the Canaries and already an unparalleled third straight player-of-the-year award cannot be ruled out.
His last four years are already turning out to be little short of astonishing now – 20 goals in League Two for Shrewsbury, then 24 in League One, 21 in the Championship and four so far in the Premier League for us.
Never mind how he gets them – Saturday’s winner being a case in point – it is the stuff of club legends.
• LAMBERT SPOT ON WITH HIS BEES VERDICT
It was good to learn that it wasn’t just me or the other 1,799 Canaries fans present thought that the 2-1 defeat at Griffin Park in August 2009 was a bit, well, rubbish, frankly.
Paul Lambert’s admission at last week’s annual meeting that, “I watched them against Brentford and I thought to myself, ’My word, what have I let myself in for here’” shows just how far we’ve come in an incredible 27 months.
While people are always right to point to the Colchester game as the real low point, for me the following two fixtures at Exeter and Brentford showed just how far there was still to slip.
Just imagine how things might have turned out had City appointed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink or some other touted name who failed to stop the rot. So dispirited was the display at Brentford that we could easily have gone down again in 2010.
Perhaps if we were lucky we’d have regrouped to win promotion out of League Two in the 2010/11 season and now we’d be finding the likes of Huddersfield and the Sheffield clubs blocking the way to a place in the League One play-offs.
In other words, worlds away from where we find ourselves, about to visit one of the richest clubs in the world.
• HEIDAR MAKES A MIRACLE RECOVERY
Neil Warnock was quoted on the QPR website on Wednesday as follows: “Unfortunately Heidar [Helguson] has not joined in [training] yet this week and there’s a doubt over him for Saturday’s game at Norwich.”
Hands up if you believed him. No, me neither.
Either he made the kind of miraculous recovery with which you might previously have associated the likes of Mother Teresa rather than at a football club, or possibly the QPR manager was trying to put one over his rival at Carrow Road. You decide.
We live in an age now where it’s very hard to automatically believe, at face value, anything anyone says.
Managers deny all knowledge of a player and then sign them the following day for a six-figure fee. Such is the often immoral world of modern-day football.